As a pastor for over thirty years, I am amazed that such a small percentage of the children of Christian parents actually serve the Lord when they reach their teenage years and beyond, including the children of Christian leaders. Since nurturing covenantal children is the primary method God uses to establish His dominion on the earth as it is in heaven, there aren’t many subjects more important than the one I am addressing in this article.
In this article, I correlate Christian parental behavior with likely outcomes related to the faith of their children. That is to say, each of us could read this article and most likely tell if our children will serve the Lord with all their hearts in the future, or be lukewarm or unbelieving when they get older. Following are my observations on why few children of Christian parents serve the Lord when they are older.
Of course, like most marriages and families, we have our share of struggles and have to continually pray and stand in faith, in the hope that at the end of the day, all of our children will fully surrender to the Lord and fulfill their divine calling. I write this article not because our family is perfect, but out of hard lessons I learned overseeing a church since 1984, and since my marriage in 1980 as well as having raised five biological children (and taken into our household several spiritual children through the years.)
Many Christian parents often do not emotionally connect with their children
I learned through having five children that it is not enough to read the Bible and pray with my children. I need to have fun with them, learn their particular love language (read Gary Smalley’s book The Five Love Languages of Children), and try to reach their hearts and establish deep relationships with them while they are young. I learned this the hard way because I didn’t really emotionally connect with one of my children the way I should have when they were young (we are close now). This resulted in a great struggle of faith in spite of all the Bible teaching and prayer we shared together. Children without an emotional connection to their parents can have a trajectory of unhealthy soul ties with ungodly people who will pull them away from the Lord.
Many Christian parents don’t intentionally pray with their families as a habit in their households
As I have surveyed Christian families, even the families of some leaders, I have found it a rare thing when the altar of the Lord has been established in a house with regular, consistent prayer. Often when there is prayer it is perfunctory and superficial, or only one of the parents prays while the other doesn’t actively engage (thus showing their children that prayer really isn’t important). Children of these parents will be on the trajectory of a nominal Christian who doesn’t know how to seek God or walk in the presence of God.
Many Christian parents don’t have an intentional approach to biblically catechize their children
Most parents are clueless when it comes to training their children in the word of God. I tell parents that one easy thing to do is teach from the book of Proverbs on a regular basis. Proverbs is the primary instructional book parents can use to train their children to live wise lives in the fear of the Lord.
Unfortunately, many independent Evangelical churches have jettisoned everything about the historical denominations, even good things like the concept of catechisms. We can take a catechism (for example, the Heidelberg Catechism) and revise it to fit our doctrinal perspective so we can use it to give our children a great overall understanding of the major doctrines of Scripture.
I believe all churches should institute some form of catechism training for their children. One church I know uses it when their children are very young, resulting in them not having Sunday school classes that separate the children from the parents; the children are so well-versed in Scripture they can understand the adult preaching as well as their parents!
Children of parents who don’t train them in the faith will be children without a biblical worldview. This will leave them vulnerable on a trajectory towards a kind of syncretism with false religious views based on spirituality and not on Christ as the truth in all of life.
Many parents allow their children to miss church on Sundays so they can participate in team sports
Somehow in this nation there is an unwritten law that teaches, “Honor the Sabbath day except if your child is involved in sports”! Parents who allow their children to consistently miss Sunday services because of sports programs are on a trajectory to nurture backslidden children who are being taught that sports and hobbies are more important in life than worshipping God! (Mark 4:19 says the desire for other things will come in and choke the word of God.)
Many parents would rather stay home if their spouses are working or unable to attend Sunday services
There are some parents who will not attend church on Sundays if their spouse is not attending church, because it is too much of a hassle to get the children ready to attend church on their own! Parents who do this are putting their children on a trajectory of serving God only when it is convenient, which would classify them as lukewarm Christians, something Jesus said He would vomit out of His mouth (Revelation 3:14-16)!
Many Christian parents live a compromised life at home
Many parents regularly watch ungodly television shows, listen to ungodly secular music, tell racist or dirty jokes, and use foul language in front of their children in the confines of their homes. Then they go to church and act spiritual on Sundays. This duplicitous behavior will place their children on a trajectory of either hypocrisy or disdain for God, the church and Christianity!
Many Christian parents don’t properly supervise their children
Many parents allow their young children to have televisions in their rooms, computers, smartphones, and even go out on dates when they are young teenagers! Consequently, these parents have no clue as to what their children are viewing or whom they are connecting with in person or on social networking websites. Unsupervised children are being indoctrinated by the world 60-80 hours per week; this is something an hour per week in church cannot compete against! It is possible for these children to be on a trajectory with no focus or with addictive/compulsive behaviors from too much texting, social networking, video games or even pornography.
Many Christian parents talk bad about their churches or church leadership in front of their children at home
Many parents are in the habit of badmouthing their pastors or churches, or speaking critically about other Christians. This puts a critical spirit in their children, which eventuates in their children thinking that church is for hypocrites! These children are on a trajectory toward being critical of everything regarding church which will result in them staying far away from corporate worship participation.
Many fathers show more enthusiasm for sports than for seeking God
I know of many fathers who will scream and shout during a football game but will have a lethargic attitude when it comes to prayer, attending church and serving God! I even know of one pastor who would cut his services short during football season so he could go home and watch football on Sunday afternoons! Jesus told us “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Thus, when parents show they are more fascinated about something other than God, or value something more than God, their children are on a trajectory of thinking that God is unworthy of their passion, time or attention!
Many Christian parents have a superficial understanding of God and their faith
Many parents only have a very superficial belief system; some don’t even know the very basics of the faith! Because of this, they cannot possibly pass down the faith to their children with any substance. Thus, their children will also have a very superficial faith at best. Most likely they will have a trajectory of having no faith and not attending church when they are older.
Every parent doesn’t have to be a theologian, but every parent should be grounded in the first principles of the faith and pass them on to their children.
Many children rarely see their parents seeking God earnestly and consistently
Our faith is more caught than taught. Thus, children learn much by observing their parents diligently seeking God in their private lives. This shows children that their parents have a substantive relationship with God, even when other people are not looking at them. Children who do not see their parents consistently and earnestly seeking God are on a trajectory of having a casual acquaintance relationship with God, instead of a friendship.
Many parents depend too much on their church’s Sunday school or youth group to mature their children in the faith
I have had to correct many parents who think it is the job of the local church to disciple and train their children in the Lord. The truth is, the church only has their children for several hours per week at best. Parents have their children for at least 50 hours per week. Truly, the primary responsibility of training children in the way of the Lord rests with parents, not the church (Proverbs 22:6; Deuteronomy 6:6-9). Children not trained at home by their parents will possibly find themselves on a trajectory toward nominal Christianity without any personal spiritual discipline to seek God.
Many Christian parents consistently miss church for any and all reasons
As a pastor, I marvel that so many parents regularly miss church services because of family events, sporting events, because they are tired or a little sick, or because they want to stay home to relax or shop. Truly, when parents live like this, they shouldn’t be shocked when their children grow up to be lukewarm Christians who don’t take the things of God seriously! If these same parents treated their business or place of employment the same way they treat church, they would have gone bankrupt or got fired years ago! These children are on a trajectory of making God only a part of their lives instead of Jesus being their lives!
Many Christian parents don’t spend quality time with their children
Many leaders are guilty of sacrificing their children on the altar of ministry or work-related ambition. What does it profit us if we gain the whole world and lose our children? Children of these parents are on a trajectory of having low self-esteem and insecurities because they feel they are not important enough for their parents to take time out for them.
Many Christian parents jump from church to church
I am not saying that you can’t ever feel led to leave a local church, but some people I know are hopping from one church to another every year or two. Children of these parents are on a trajectory of not being personally stable in their faith, being individualistic in relating to God, not being able to commit to any community of faith, nor trusting spiritual authority in their lives.
Many Christian parents constantly nag their children
I have learned that it is not wise to preach at your children. As they get older, it is also important that we do not nag them constantly about doing what is right. At a certain point we need to believe God that He will get a hold of their hearts and convert them.
Instead of nagging our children we need to spend that same amount of time or more in prayer and fasting in faith for their souls. Children of nagging parents are on a trajectory of tuning out their parents and all adults when they get to be teenagers, which will result in rebellion against authority and foolish behavior.
Many Christian parents are too legalistic or religious with their children
A parental approach that is very strict, religious and legalistic may be just as harmful as parental lukewarm-ness in the home towards Christ. When parents try to force their children to believe in Christ by making them live by strict, oppressive rules without any emotional connection, spiritual connection or fun, they will nurture resentful children who will run from God as soon as they are old enough.
Children of legalistic religious parents are on a trajectory of falling into gross excess in regards to sinful pleasure as a reaction against the oppressiveness of rigid legalistic religion. Children of legalistic Pentecostal homes rarely serve God when they get older and often stop going to church in their older teenage years.
In summary, these are just some of my observations, which seem to ensure the backslidden or lukewarm condition of a child raised in a Christian home. However, there are always exceptions to these observations. Some children can go on to fulfill their purpose in Christ with passion in spite of the hindrances of their parents.
Also, as parents we can do everything correctly and not violate any of the above points, and yet still find our children struggling in their faith. This article is not meant to bring condemnation to parents, but to awaken us to our responsibilities as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the nurturing of our children. Ultimately, if our children don’t meet God for themselves they will not seek Him, even if we follow the best practices as parents.
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